Stormy start for trio

TURIN -- One more hurdle for players trying to get to the Olympics: The weather.

While Team Canada will gather today in Toronto for a 2:30 p.m. practice, some members of Team USA dealt with travel problems because of a storm on the U.S. East coast.

Three members of Team USA -- Robert Esche, Derian Hatcher and Mike Knuble -- were sitting anxiously in Ottawa yesterday morning waiting for word on when the Philadelphia Flyers' plane might be able to leave town.

It's not imperative that the trio arrive in Turin today because the rest of the team won't get here until tomorrow. But the extra travel time would have been a bonus.

"None of us have packed yet and we don't know when we're gonna get back," said Esche, who was scheduled to fly to Turin last night from Philly.

Hatcher said he wasn't worried about putting his bag together for two weeks. He was more concerned about getting out of Ottawa to start the trek to Italy.

"Packing will be easy if we get back," said Hatcher.

THE MEDAL PLAZA: Call it Hockey Night in Italy. After watching Team Canada's women rout Italy 16-0 on Saturday at the Palasport Olympico, there was a gathering in front of the television at the Media Village Mortara. And, lo and behold on the television screen, was Don Cherry. Most of the CBC crew is staying in our village, so they tuned to Hockey Night in Canada to make everybody feel at home. Of course, watching the Toronto Maple Leafs get knocked off 4-2 with highlights from Ottawa mixed in was priceless ... One of the strange things you see here is huge covers over every balcony. You get to the point where you have to ask somebody and here's the explanation I got: Turin is an industrial city with a lot of construction taking place. The Olympics have been a boon for the city and has helped to build up the area. But with the construction comes a mess and the covers are to keep the dust off the windows ... Italians sure like to eat and nobody is complaining about the food. Stopped at a small cafe for dinner before the women's game Saturday: First we had a free sip of wine to welcome us to Italy, next up was salad, then we had pasta, followed by chicken with potatoes and broccoli. At that point, my buddy and I took a pass on dessert.

ON THE PODIUM: American Idol winner Kelly Clarkson was on the stage at the Medal Plaza last night. Isn't there an Italian Idol who could take the stage? ... There's talk Minny goaltender Manny Fernandez, an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season, has told the Wild he won't back next year, which means he'll be dealt at the March 9 trade deadline. Let's face it, the Wild are a nice story, but they're going nowhere fast and not all the players are thrilled with GM Doug Risebrough and coach Jacques Lemaire. Fernandez isn't getting any younger and he wants a chance to win ... German coach Uwe Krupp is going to be counting heavily on Senators D Christoph Schubert to play a big role at these Games. "I know he's played some forward with the Senators, but he's going to be one of our top guys on defence and that's where we're going to use him," said Krupp ... Hold on a minute, I can't see the ice here at the Torino Esposizioni because there's a Russian journalist standing in front of me waving at the team on the ice with his jersey on. Gotta remember to bring that free Canada stuff Curt Harnett gave me to the next game.